Upon arrival at Bangkok, we were greeted at the airplane gate by a private hostess and guide and whisked through immigration and baggage claim without ever standing in lines. We were quickly transferred via private Mercedes and taken to Saphan Taksim where we boarded a private speed boat ride down the famed Chao Phraya River.
This is the same river where James Bond had a spectacular boat chase through the network of canals crisscrossing the city. Our beautiful Riva boat took us swiftly to the Chakrabongse Villas built in 1908 by HRH Prince Chakrabongse, the estate was originally used when he attended royal ceremonies at the nearby Grand Palace.
Today, in the hands of his granddaughter Narisa, the villa, and gardens have found new life as a luxurious and intimate boutique hotel that reflects both her family’s noble history and her deep appreciation of Thai art, cuisine and culture.
We stayed in the enormous two-story Chinese Suite filled with traditional furnishings and artwork overlooking the hotel pool. With breathtaking views towards the gleaming spires of the Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn,) the hotel is surrounded by tropical gardens and pools and offers up four luxury suites and three rooms all individual in style. The main house is still occupied by the owner when she is in residence.
Our first evening we enjoyed a romantic outdoor dinner illuminated by candlelight on the hotel's riverfront terrace, with a view overlooking the west bank and the majestic Buddhist temple.We headed out to explore the city a bit before retiring for some well-deserved sleep.
Early mornings in Bangkok are my favorite when the city is just starting to set up their food markets, and the heat is less oppressive. Our private guide escorted us for the short walk to the stunning Wat Pho Temple, which offers the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a stunning 150-foot reclining Buddha. The temple also houses a school of Thai medicine and is the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple.
Our adventure was just beginning, and the Mercedes whisked us to the airport for our easy flight to Phuket.
A private SUV was waiting for us at the airport and transported us on the winding ride through Phuket to the Sarojin Resort located one hour north. Located in the beautiful seaside town of Khao Lak and overlooking the Andaman Sea, the Sarojin is home to 56 luxury residences spread across seven two story buildings.
The area covers 10 acres of perfectly landscaped gardens fronting a large sandy beach.The resort opened in October 2005, and the British owners Kate and Andrew Kemp and much of the staff worked together before and after the December 2004 tsunami to not only restore the property but also to assist the recovery of the local community. It is with this spirit that the Sarojin remains a very special property to locals and visitors alike.
The resort has 28 Garden Residences, 14 Pool Residences each with private swimming pools and 14 spa suites which offer a spa relaxation pool and large terrace. The Sarojin offers some of the very best excursions available. Custom designed and curated towards your personal tastes, the hotel will go out of their way to make sure your time is well spent.
Guests can also visit a local market, purchase ingredients and learn to cook a range of famous Thai cuisine below a jungle waterfall or on the riverbank, sea cave canoeing, white water rafting, deep sea fishing, mountain biking and more.
Our first evening was dining by candlelight next to a jungle waterfall, one of the unique specialties that Sarojin offers its guests. With hundreds of candles illuminating the area and a staff of six, Executive Chef Gogh created an amazing romantic dining experience under the stars.
It was raining the next day, so we decided to postpone our biking excursion and instead were taken to a stunning elephant sanctuary, the Phang Nga Elephant Park. Since I do not support captive animal tourism or riding elephants, I was pleased to discover this unique, small, family-run eco-business, not a chain or part of a large tourist organization.
The sanctuary is dedicated to providing elephants with the highest quality-of-life possible. They do not tolerate practices such as tricks and performances and work hard to create public awareness while improving the care and well-being of Thailand’s elephants at their remote location near Thung Ka Ngok, a small village in Phang Nga Province.
My afternoon was spent leisurely in the resorts stunning Pathways Spa, a secluded space adjacent to the beach with splashing waves from the sea in the background. Dinner was spent in the poolside restaurant with a Mediterranean to Michelin theme hosted by the Chef.
The final morning at Sarojin offered up sunny, hot weather that was perfect for our boat trip aboard the resorts private Lady Sarojin. This was the one excursion I was most excited about, to have the chance to explore the nearby mysterious rock islands and of course the famed James Bond Island.
JAMES BOND ISLAND
We departed from the upscale Yacht Haven Marina, located in Phang Nga Bay and 50 minutes by private car from The Sarojin. The Lady Sarojin created the perfect day of cruising, sea cave canoeing, and snorkeling Phang Nga Bay. The Sarojin’s team of personal guides created a very exclusive and private experience just for us and far away from the legions of tourists and the large tour boats.
In the James Bond film, the island is the hideout of evil villain Scaramanga. At the time of filming, it was simply a remote and undiscovered paradise, it’s now named James Bond Island and overrun by tourists visiting the chain of tiny jungle-covered limestone pillars on the tip of the Malay peninsula.
After we disembarked later in the afternoon, our private driver took us to the spectacular Amanpuri resort. Located on a secluded coconut plantation and fronting the Pansea Beach, this property makes you feel like you are among friends on your own island. With a stunning design of pointed, tiled roofs inspired by ancient architecture, the expansive grounds are peaceful and not crowded with guests.
I am admittedly one of the many “Aman Junkies” and always eager to visit a new property. We were led straight to our enormous 8-bedroom villa, and despite having our own six-person staff, we were left on our own to enjoy the pool while fresh cocktails and snacks were discretely delivered.
The dining experience at Amanpuri is perfect for picky eaters since they really offer anything you would ever want. The resort provides Thai, Japanese, and South American restaurants open all year round with a Mediterranean lunch served at the Beach Club, including a wood-fired pizza oven. Afternoons offer a traditional tea service by the pool with Thai pancakes, cakes, and tea. For dinner, we were joined by the resorts gregarious and very charming GM Paul Linder where I drank some of the best margaritas in the world.
But it is the spa experience at Aman properties that always inspire me. The noteworthy spa at Amanpuri is one of the very best in the world and features six spacious treatment rooms, each with its own steam room, shower, bath, and outdoor meditation area. With experts in residence offering up specialty services, this is a once in a lifetime experience. I was fortunate to be able to experience treatments from three of the visiting experts; Robert Hyrsky a specialist in Craniosacral Therapy and Reconnective healing; Dr. Joo Taebaek a pain management and holistic healer and Anamai Apaiso a former monk who trains you on spiritual enlightenment and joyful living.
It was hard to say farewell to such an amazing resort and a top notch staff, but our adventure continued as we were met at the Bang Rong Pier aboard the Navy Dream boat and taken to Koh Yao Noi Island.
KOH YAO NOI ISLAND
Only an hour’s transfer from both Phuket and Krabi international airport, inspired by the temples of Northern Thailand, the stunning 10-bedroom beachfront Ani Villasoffers a magical experience on one of the most spectacular locations overlooking the famed limestone karst formations.
Tim Reynolds, a one-time Wall Street trader, founded Ani Villas in Anguilla in 2010 as a bold new move in the realm of hospitality, and as a complement to a philanthropic mission. For every private resort, there is an Ani Art Academy, an independent school that’s fully funded by the Tim Reynolds Foundation and that offers a free, comprehensive drawing and painting program to communities surrounding each private resort, and at two additional locations in the United States.
Ani Villas also opened in Sri Lanka at the end of last year, with their fourth private resort opening this year in the Dominican Republic. The perfect operation that builds unique luxury properties around the world that offer the exclusivity of a private estate rental with the amenities of a full-service resort complete with restaurant, bar, spa, pools, and concierge.
The full staff at Ani Villas provides everything you could ever want including building out custom itineraries and excursions. Everything is planned so that you can simply relax in paradise. The villas are all different, they all share common spaces, and instead of having a restaurant, they have a large open kitchen and an outdoor dining room pagoda in the pool with a large table where everyone sits together for their meals like a family. Our farewell dinner was a beach BBQ where the table was immaculately set under a canopy covered in twinkling lights as we watched the sunset.
The meals are all served family style as well and their master Chef Yao personally comes to our table to check on us as course after course is brought out for us to enjoy. The best part about this place is the infinity pool with large furniture and pillows to lounge on, partially submerged in the pool, while overlooking one of the most stunning vistas you will ever see of the Thai islands. Your view is straight out over the Andaman Sea towards Krabi, the mainland, and dozens of large rocks and islands floating across the horizon in jagged, dripping forms.
The entire resort is made for gatherings of friends and family to come stay together on holiday or to celebrate special occasions like weddings or anniversaries. It is an intimate environment set up where you feel like you have space and privacy, but you are still together and not isolated like many other private resorts here in Thailand.
Ani Villas can arrange for a traditional Thai wooden, longtail boat to come pick you up and take you on a variety of adventures around the islands from scuba diving, rock climbing, dinner on private beaches, boat tours and kayaking through sea caves and lagoons. The options are plentiful, and you can take a longtail swim in the sandy bay of Koh Kudu, cross over to Koh Roi to visit the Bat Lagoon and end the trip on the Northern tip of Koyao Noi to view the Big Tree hidden within the jungle.
Every day at Ani Villas feels like you are staying in a family home and not a resort. All of the activities, food, and drinks are “all-inclusive” or easily organized by the amazing resident manager Chaya, meaning you can just sign up for massages at the spa, paddle boarding, Muay Thai kickboxing lessons, or snorkeling as often as you like and your wish is always granted.
What made me a fan for life and already has me planning a return trip to Ani Villas, is the staff. One of the most beautiful travel experiences I have ever had with such amazing smiling faces and generous spirits. As they waved their traditional Asian farewell until you are out of sight, I felt like I was leaving my new extended family.
Our final evening in Phuket was spent at the beautiful Trisara Resort. Trisara is one of the most luxurious hotels in Phuket with 39 spacious designer villas and 30 exclusive residences all perched on a sloping hillside offering unbelievable views towards the Andaman Sea. Trisara offers a selection of one-bedroom pool villas and ultra-luxurious residential villas that vary from two to six bedrooms.
We enjoyed a two-hour massage at the enormous Trisara Spa before a romantic dinner by the beach at the gourmet restaurant. Because of its perfect location, only 15 minutes away from Phuket airport on the West Coast, this is the perfect choice for travelers with early or late flights out of the city.
The best way to get to Bangkok is with the elegant Cathay Pacific offering an extremely easy flight via Hong Kong where you can enjoy one of the most spectacular airport lounges in the world. In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific offers The Wing First Class lounge featuring five brand new cabanas, each with day bed, shower and a full-sized bathtub. On board, the experience is even better with the widest first class seats I have seen providing for an easy sleep for passengers of all sizes.